The Making of L. Ron Hubbard
The Mind Behind the "Religion"
From a life haunted by emotional and financial troubles, L. Ron Hubbard brought forth Scientology. He achieved godlike status among his followers, and his death has not deterred the church's efforts to reach deeper into society.
(Sunday, 24 June 1990, page A1:1)
It was a triumph of galactic proportions: Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard had discarded the body that bound him to the physical universe and was off to the next phase of his spiritual exploration -- "on a planet a galaxy away."
"Hip, hip, hurray!" thousands of Scientologists thundered inside the Hollywood Palladium, where they had just been told of this remarkable feat.
"Hip, hip, hurray! Hip, hip, hurray!" they continued to chant, gazing at a large photograph of Hubbard, creator of their religion and author of the best-selling "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health."
Earlier that day, the Church of Scientology had summoned the faithful throughout Los Angeles to a "big and exciting event" at the Palladium. They were told nothing more, just to be there.
As evening fell, thousands arrived, most decked out in the spit-and- polish mockNavy uniforms that are symbolic of the organization's paramilitary structure.
The excited assemblage was about to learn that their beloved leader, a man who dubbed himself "The Commodore," had died. Yet, death was never mentioned.
Instead, the Scientologists were told that Hubbard had finished his spiritual research on this planet, charting a precise path for man to achieve immortality. And now it was on to bigger challenges somewhere beyond the stars.
His body had "become an impediment to the work he now must do outside of its confines," the awe-struck crowd was informed. "The fact that he ... willingly discarded the body after it was no longer useful to him signifies his ultimate success: the conquest of life that he embarked upon half a century ago."
The death certificate would show that Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, 74, who had not been seen publicly for nearly six years, died on Jan. 24, 1986, of a stroke on his ranch outside San Luis Obispo.
But to Scientologists, the man they affectionately called "Ron" had ascended.
The glorification of L. Ron Hubbard that brisk January night was not surprising. Over more than three decades he had skillfully transformed himself from a writer of pulp fiction to a writer of "sacred scriptures." Along the way, he made a fortune and achieved his dream of fame.
"I have high hopes of smashing my name into history so violently that it will take a legendary form, even if all the books are destroyed," Hubbard wrote to the first of his three wives in 1938, more than a decade before he created Scientology.
"That goal," he said, "is the real goal as far as I am concerned."
From the ground up, Hubbard built an international empire that started as a collection of mental therapy centers and became one of the world's most controversial and secretive religions.
The intensity, combativeness and salesmanship that distinguish Scientology from other religions can be traced directly to Hubbard. For, even in death, the man and his creation are inseparable.
He wrote millions of words in scores of books instructing his followers on everything from how to market Scientology to how to fend off critics. His prolific and sometimes rambling discourses constitute the gospel of Scientology, its structure and its soul. Deviations are punishable.
Through his writings, Hubbard fortified his clannish organization with a powerful intolerance of criticism and a fierce will to endure and prosper. He wrote a Code of Honor that urged his followers to "never desert a group to which you owe your support" and "never fear to hurt another in a just cause."
He transmitted to his followers his suspicious view of the world -- one populated, he insisted, by madmen bent on Scientology's destruction.
His flaring temper and searing intensity are deeply branded into the church and reflected in the behavior of his faithful, who shout at adversaries and even at each other. As one former high-ranking member put it: "He made swearing cool."
Hubbard's followers say his teachings have helped thousands kick drugs and allowed countless others to lead fuller lives through courses that improve communication skills, build self-confidence and increase an individual's ability to take control of his or her life.
He was, they say, "the greatest humanitarian in history."
But there was another side to this imaginative and intelligent man. And to understand Scientology, one must begin with L. Ron Hubbard.
In the late 1940s, Hubbard was broke and in debt. A struggling writer of science fiction and fantasy, he was forced to sell his typewriter for $28.50 to get by.
"I can still see Ron three-steps-at-a-time running up the stairs in around 1949 in order to borrow $30 from me to get out of town because he had a wife after him for alimony," recalled his former literary agent, Forrest J. Ackerman.
At one point, Hubbard was reduced to begging the Veterans Administration to let him keep a $51 overpayment of benefits. "I am nearly penniless," wrote Hubbard, a former Navy lieutenant.
Hubbard was mentally troubled, too. In late 1947, he asked the Veterans Administration to help him get psychiatric treatment.
"Toward the end of my (military) service," Hubbard wrote to the VA, "I avoided out of pride any mental examinations, hoping that time would balance a mind which I had every reason to suppose was seriously affected.
"I cannot account for nor rise above long periods of moroseness and suicidal inclinations, and have newly come to realize that I must first triumph above this before I can hope to rehabilitate myself at all."
In his most private moments, Hubbard wrote bizarre statements to himself in notebooks that would surface four decades later in Los Angeles Superior Court.
"All men are your slaves," he wrote in one.
"You can be merciless whenever your will is crossed and you have the right to be merciless," he wrote in another.
Hubbard was troubled, restless and adrift in those little known years of his life. But he never lost confidence in his ability as a writer. He had made a living with words in the past and he could do it again.
Before the financial and emotional problems that consumed him in the 1940s, Hubbard had achieved moderate success writing for a variety of dime-store pulp magazines. He specialized in shoot'em-up adventures, Westerns, mysteries, war stories and science fiction.
His output, if not the writing itself, was spectacular. Using such pseudonyms as Winchester Remington Colt and Rene LaFayette, he sometimes filled up entire issues virtually by himself. Hubbard's life then was like a page from one of his adventure stories. He panned for gold in Puerto Rico and charted waterways in Alaska. He was a master sailor and glider pilot, with a reported penchant for eye-catching maneuvers.
Although Hubbard's health and writing career foundered after the war, he remained a virtual factory of ideas. And his biggest was about to be born.
Hubbard had long been fascinated with mental phenomena and the mysteries of life.
He was an expert in hypnotism. During a 1948 gathering of science fiction buffs in Los Angeles, he hypnotized many of those in attendance, convincing one young man that he was cradling a tiny kangaroo in his hands.
Hubbard sometimes spoke of having visions.
His former literary agent, Ackerman, said Hubbard once told of dying on an operating table. And here, according to Ackerman, is what Hubbard said followed:
"He arose in spirit form and looked at the body he no longer inhabited .... In the distance he saw a great ornate gate.... The gate opened of its own accord and he drifted through. There, spread out, was an intellectual smorgasbord, the answers to everything that ever puzzled the mind of man. He was absorbing all this fantabulous information.... Then he felt like a long umbilical cord pulling him back. And a voice was saying, 'No, not yet.' "
Hubbard, according to Ackerman, said he returned to life and feverishly wrote his recollections. He said Hubbard later tried to sell the manuscript but failed, claiming that "whoever read it (a) went insane, or (b) committed suicide."
Hubbard's intense curiosity about the mind's power led him into a friendship in 1946 with rocket fuel scientist John Whiteside Parsons. Parsons was a protege of British satanist Aleister Crowley and leader of a black magic group modeled after Crowley's infamous occult lodge in England.
Hubbard also admired Crowley, and in a 1952 lecture described him as "my very good friend."
Parsons and Hubbard lived in an aging mansion on South Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena. The estate was home to an odd mix of Bohemian artists, writers, scientists and occultists. A small domed temple supported by six stone columns stood in the back yard.
Hubbard met his second wife, Sara Northrup, at the mansion. Although she was Parsons' lover at the time, Hubbard was undeterred. He married Northrup before divorcing his first wife.
Long before the 1960s counterculture, some residents of the estate smoked marijuana and embraced a philosophy of promiscuous, ritualistic sex.
"The neighbors began protesting when the rituals called for a naked pregnant woman to jump nine times through fire in the yard," recalled science fiction author L. Sprague de Camp, who knew both Hubbard and Parsons.
Crowley biographers have written that Parsons and Hubbard practiced "sex magic." As the biographers tell it, a robed Hubbard chanted incantations while Parsons and his wife-to-be, Cameron, engaged in sexual intercourse intended to produce a child with superior intellect and powers. The ceremony was said to span 11 consecutive nights.
Hubbard and Parsons finally had a falling out over a sailboat sales venture that ended in a court dispute between the two.
In later years, Hubbard tried to distance himself from his embarrassing association with Parsons, who was a founder of a government rocket project at California Institute of Technology that later evolved into the famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Parsons died in 1952 when a chemical explosion ripped through his garage lab.
Hubbard insisted that he had been working undercover for Naval Intelligence to break up black magic in America and to investigate links between the occultists and prominent scientists at the Parsons mansion. Hubbard said the mission was so successful that the house was razed and the black magic group was dispersed.
But Parsons' widow, Cameron, disputed Hubbard's account in a brief interview with The Times.
She said the two men "liked each other very much" and "felt they were ushering in a force that was going to change things."